The third in our series mapping the class divides in America's cities and metros.

This is the third post in a series exploring the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. It examines the residential locations of today's three major classes: the shrinking middle of blue-collar workers; the rising ranks of the knowledge, professional, and creative class; and the even larger and faster-growing ranks of lower-paid, service workers, using detailed data from the American Community Survey. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series, on New York.

The map above charts the geography of class for the entire metro area of Chicago. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. The areas with the darkest shades have the highest concentrations of that class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.

The creative class includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media, and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions. All told its ranks make up 35.1 percent of the metro's workers, slightly higher than the national average. These are high-skilled, highly-educated, and high-paying positions where workers average $75,033 per year in wages and salaries. There are 729 tracts (34.5 percent of the city's total) that are more than 40 percent creative class workers, 407 (19.3 percent) with more than 50 percent, 67 (3.2 percent) with more than two-thirds, and nine tracts (0.43 percent) where the creative class makes up more than three-quarters of all residents.

In the city proper, the purple areas with the highest creative class concentrations radiate north and south from the city center, up and down the lake shore from the Loop south to the Hyde Park area surrounding the University of Chicago, and then north including Wicker Park and Wrigleyville, which have slightly smaller concentrations. (These concentrations are highlighted right. Click for a larger image.)

In the wider metro, the areas of highest creative class concentration continue to hug the lake shore but also include suburban Oak Park to the west and Evanston, home of Northwestern University, to the north. There is a also a band of purple to the west running north and south of Naperville.

The next two maps are interactive: Click on a tract to see its percentages for each of the three major classes.

The map below charts class geography for the city proper. 

The city of Chicago. (MPI's Zara Matheson)

The second interactive map (immediately below) charts the class geography for the entire Chicago metro area. Click on a tract for information on the percentage breakdown of the three major classes.

The Chicago metro area. (MPI's Zara Matheson)

The table below lists the top 10 creative class locations (Census tracts) in the metro area. Six of these are in the city proper, including two each in Hyde Park and Streeterville and one each in Lake View and Lincoln Park, as well as one each in suburban Oak Park, Evanston, Glencoe, and Burr Ridge.

Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson notes the continuity and overlap between these creative class clusters and his own map of Chicago's "bohemian index" and internet use in his book, Great American City. Pointing to the strong creative class clusters in Hyde Park, the Loop, and North Side, he notes in an email to me that "what is interesting is that bohemians (actors, dancers, writers, etc.) are not necessarily high income. The creative class high earners like to be near the bohemians but perhaps not equal feelings the reverse way as reflected in the ongoing debate over gentrification." He also notes the difference between the creative class concentrations in the Loop and Lincoln Park, which are more business professional, and Hyde Park, which is more academic as it surrounds the University of Chicago.

Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Chicago Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Creative Class Share
Hyde Park, Chicago (4112) 81.0%
Lake View, Chicago (623) 80.0%
Hyde Park, Chicago (4111) 79.8%
Oak Park, Illinois (8124) 79.5%
Streeterville, Chicago (814.02) 78.8%
Glencoe, Illinois (8001) 77.2%
Evanston, Illinois (8099) 75.7%
Streeterville, Chicago (814.03) 75.7%
Burr Ridge, Illinois (8459.01) 75.3%
Lincoln Park, Chicago (714) 74.2%
Metro Average 35.1%


The service class entails low-wage, low-skill workers who work in routine service jobs such as food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions. This is the largest class of workers in Chicago, making up 43.4 percent of the region's workers, and some of the fastest-growing job categories of all. Service workers in the metro average $30,946 in wages and salaries — 41 percent of the average of creative class workers. There are 491 tracts (23.2 percent of the city's total) where this class is more than half, 37 (1.75 percent) where it is more than two-thirds, and two tracts (0.09 percent) where it is more than three-quarters.

In the city proper, the service class is settled at the periphery of creative class neighborhoods out to the city's outer rim. As the table below shows, nine of the 10 tracts with the highest percentage of service workers are in the city proper, and four of them are located in Englewood, a three-mile square neighborhood in the southwest that has a poverty rate of more than 40 percent, over twice the city's rate overall. In our email conversation regarding this post, Sampson notes this is "ominous for the future given the stagnation of wages in this sector, as the poor get poorer." This is in line with our earlier dialogue here on Cities where he pointed out that "the stigmatization heaped on poor neighborhoods and the grinding poverty of its residents are corrosive, leading to … 'moral cynicism' and alienation from key institutions, setting up a cycle of decline. Those with the means move out, leading to further cynicism and an intensified 'poverty trap' in the neighborhoods left behind." In the broader metro, the service class surrounds the two major creative class clusters.

Top 10 Service Class Locations in the Chicago Metro
Neighborhood (Census Tract #) Service Class Share
Englewood, Chicago (8349) 86.3%
Englewood, Chicago (6805) 83.5%
Austin, Chicago (2515) 74.9%
DeKalb, Illinois (22) 74.5%
Riverdale, Chicago (5401.02) 74.2%
Fuller Park, Chicago (8355) 73.3%
South Chicago, Chicago (4603.02) 72.8%
Englewood, Chicago (6713) 72.6%
Washington Park, Chicago (4008) 72.5%
Englewood, Chicago (6716) 72.4%
Metro Average 43.4%


Sadly, few solidly working class neighborhoods remain in Chicago, the city that poet Carl Sandburg memorably celebrated as the "City of the Big Shoulders." In the city, there are several specks of blue west of the Loop and one to the south.

Members of the working class are employed in factory jobs as well as transportation and construction. It comprises 21.4 percent of the region's workers, who average $40,295 per year in wages and salaries. There are just 37 tracts (1.8 percent of the city's total) where the working class makes up more than half of all workers living in the area. But there are 401 tracts (18.9 percent) where it is less than 10 percent of residents, and 149 (7.1 percent) where the working class is less than five percent.

Seven of the 10 tracts with the largest working class concentrations are in the city proper, including four in Little Village, two in New City, and one in Brighton Park. Sampson writes to me that many of these tracts are highly immigrant, mainly Latino enclaves. South Deering on the far south side remains a bastion of blue collar workers, even 30 years after the closing of Wisconsin Steel, as does South Lawndale (a part of the formerly Eastern European enclave of Little Village, which has in recent years become a bastion for Mexican immigrants), despite the closings of the big Western Electric and International Harvester plants that used to employ so many. In the greater metro area, Joliet and Cicero as well as Gary across the border in Indiana have significant working class concentrations.

Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Chicago Metro
Neighborhood ( Census Tract #) Working Class Share
Little Village, Chicago (3017.01) 66.9%
Gary, Indiana (411) 59.6%
Brighton Park, Chicago (5808) 59.5%
New City, Chicago (6104) 59.2%
Cicero, Illinois (8133.02) 58.9%
Little Village, Chicago (8408) 58.0%
Joliet, Illinois (8813.01) 58.0%
New City, Chicago (6103) 57.9%
Little Village, Chicago (8407) 56.5%
Little Village, Chicago (3018.03) 55.6%
Metro Average 21.4%


My next post in this series will look at Washington, D.C., one of the country's fastest-growing and most affluent metros. 

All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.

Prior posts in this series:

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